This book investigates the ways in which literacy was important in early mediaeval Europe, and examines the context of literacy, its uses, levels, and distribution, in a number of different early mediaeval societies, including Ireland, Anglo-Saxon England, Merovingian and Carolingian Francia, Vistigothic and Umayyad Spain, papal Rome, Carolingian Italy, Byzantium, and the Jews of the eastern Mediterranean, between c. 400 and c. 1000. The book opens up a topic in relation to the early middle ages that has already been treated extensively for earlier and later periods and in modern societies. The studies, each by a leading young scholar in the field, set out to provide the factual basis from which assessments of the significance of literacy in the early mediaeval world can be made, as well as analysing the significance of literacy, its implications, and its consequences for the societies in which we observe it. In all cases, the studies represent new research, and bring much new evidence to the subject, not least the recent archaeological discoveries at San Vincenzo al Volturno.
They indicate some of the fruitful avenues for subsequent scholars to explore, but also provide fascinating insight into the attitudes of early mediaeval societies towards the written word, the degree to which these attitudes were formed by the Roman heritage, and by the Christian church, and literacy in terms of social prestige, legal proof, and governmental control and power. This period is shown as fundamental for the subsequent uses of literacy in mediaeval and modern Europe.
"Each of the contributions to The Uses of Literacy is strong and offers much to the reader...The final sentence of her conclusion merits repeating: 'Literacy's importance and relevance throughout the early middle ages is, on the evidence presented in our essays, as a major force in the most crucial and formative period in the development of European civilization." The Catholic Historical Review "Overall, this collection of articles constitutes an important and welcome contribution to our understanding of a period in which literacy has traditionally either been ignored or associated with decline." History